Fermentation Temp Control - 53%
Large Boil Kettle - 49%
Wort Chiller - 44%
Mash Tun - 37%
Outdoor Burner - 21%
Kegging System - 16%
Grain Mill - 14%
Oxygenation System - 8%
Stir Plate - 8%
Water Filtration - 5%
Wort Pump - 1%
Other - 0%
Beer Filter - 0%
(The vote was for brewer's top three choices, which is why they don't add up to 100%)
There are two main areas that a homebrewer can invest in to improve their beers: wort production gear, and equipment that improves fermentation. In my experience investments on the fermentation side is more important for brewing better beer, although it isn’t nearly as fun. Not many people get as excited about a constant fermentation temperature, or correct pitching rates, or ideal oxygen levels as they do about switching from extract to all-grain. However, I’d rather have a properly fermented extract beer no question over a poorly fermented all-grain batch.
I think the results give a pretty good path for a beginning homebrewer. I agree that gaining the ability to control your fermentation temperatures is the most important upgrade that any brewer can make. Not only does it enables complete dial in the temperature that suits a particular yeast strain but also provides the ability to lager and cold crash. Even if you don’t want to spend the money to have a dedicated refrigerator, a more hands on solution involving adding ice to a cooler or water batch can be a big help. Often overlooked, in cold climates having a method to raise the temperature of fermentation can be almost as important (especially for those of us whose basements are ~55 F at the moment). Either way it frees you from having the seasons dictate your brewing schedule.
I believe all-grain is the second most important investment a brewer can make, giving you a wider range of ingredients and a better ability to control the wort production. However, to take advantage of a mash tun you really need the ability to do full-boils (which requires a large boil kettle, and depending on your stove may also call for an outdoor burner) and cool all of that wort quickly (with a wort chiller). Don’t look at a full boil as an improvement that must be made simultaneously with going all-grain, a full boil and quick cool can really benefit the character of extract beers as well.
Much of the rest of the equipment on the list is really optional: a grain mill, oxygenation system, wort pump, kegging system, or beer filter can all improve your results, but mostly they are about saving time, effort, or money. I’ve been really happy with my newest investment, a stir plate and 2 L Erlenmeyer flask, for making starters (boil and cool directly in the flask, and the continuous stirring makes for a much denser yeast culture).
Out of all the results the only one that really surprised me was how low water filtration was; one of the most common off-flavors I taste at homebrewing club meetings is chlorophenols, usually the result of chlorinated brewing water. Given the relatively low cost of a carbon water filter, it might actually be the first suggestion I’d give to a new homebrewer. I’m not sure water filtration scored so low because it is under appreciated, or if it falls into the “optional” category since it only saves the time and money of buying chlorine free bottled water.
The longer I brew the more I am convinced that technique and process are far more important than recipe when it comes to making great beer. The ability some home and craft brewers have to make a range of delicious beers is more about how they brew than what they brew. Of course specific styles take distinct methods, and making a truly world class beer takes a higher level of recipe development, but that isn’t possible without solid fundamental wort production, fermentation, and packaging technique.
As always, I’m interested to hear what the five people who picked “Other” wanted to see? Conical fermentor? Hop back? Randall?
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Fermentation Temp Control - 53%